HC Deb 19 January 1993 vol 217 cc262-4 3.32 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, I should like to make a short business statement.

The subject for debate on Thursday 21 January will now be "events in the Gulf and the Royal Air Force", on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. I believe that that will be for the general convenience of the House. The House will also wish to know that, as I said last Thursday, the debate will be opened by my right and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and will now be wound up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

I thank the Leader of the House for that announcement. He will know that we have been pressing for a meeting of the Security Council and for an opportunity for the House to discuss these matters. I am sure that the Leader of the House will understand, especially in the light of what was said during last week's business questions, that inevitably it is likely that the debate will concentrate on the position in the Gulf. I hope that he will bear it in mind that there may be a further request for a service debate on issues involving the provision of service by the Royal Air Force at a later date.

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Lady's point. As I understand it, and subject always to the Chair, it will be in order for hon. Members to raise other points, but I have no doubt that the House will expect—as I do—that the main focus of the debate will be the situation in the Gulf.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the treasured single-day debate on the Royal Air Force will be largely about the Royal Air Force, because it is active in the Gulf?

Mr. Newton

That is a helpful point, and I think that it will command some assent from the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett).

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

In view of the answers we have been given, would it not now be intelligent to consider whether the debate on Thursday should concentrate exclusively on events in the Gulf, so that as many hon. Members as possible with an interest in that topic might have an opportunity to contribute, and whether, therefore, a separate and distinct day should be assigned for a debate on the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Newton

We can all agree that it is highly likely that the main focus of the debate will be the Gulf. However, as it is principally the RAF that has been involved in the Gulf, I am not sure that it would be right to rule out reference to other matters affecting the RAF.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

As the debate on Thursday will deal with issues affecting the lives of British soldiers and of people throughout the middle east, and will therefore be desperately important and will require the total attention of hon. Members, can the Leader of the House give us an assurance that the Government will not seek to make Members tired and harassed by expecting them to debate vital issues, like the social chapter, in the early hours of the morning—

Madam Speaker

Order. I think that I can help the House. This is a very narrow business statement, which does not relate to that matter.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is the Leader of the House prepared to give an undertaking on behalf of the Government that there will be no final decision to send British troops to Kuwait until Thursday's debate has taken place?

Mr. Newton

As the latest information that I received before coming to the Chamber was that no formal request of this kind had been received, the appropriate thing for me to say is that these are matters for discussion in the debate on Thursday.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Will the motion be drawn sufficiently widely to enable us to consider what happens as we send troops and naval personnel to the Gulf? I am thinking in particular of the use of the flag officer sea training facilities at Portland, which have been used for every deployment to the Gulf and to other theatres of war, and of the quality of the training that is provided there.

Mr. Newton

All this will be subject to your views, Madam Speaker, as to what is in order. As I have said, the debate will take place on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. It could not be drawn more widely than that.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Defence will open the debate. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be in a position to tell us what impact the deployment of troops in the Gulf area would have on the extra battalion in Northern Ireland?

Madam Speaker

Order. That question also is far too wide. The Leader of the House has made a very narrow statement about a simple change of title. He has paid the House the courtesy of informing it of the change and of letting it know which Secretaries of State will handle the debate. I must ask hon. Members to restrict the questions to those matters.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Will my right hon. Friend explain why he did not consider linking this matter with the deployment of British troops in the Yugoslav theatre—

Madam Speaker

Order. I refer the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to "Erskine May", which, on page 297, makes it very clear that questions arising from a supplementary statement of this nature should be very narrow. I shall take only a few more questions.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Can the Leader of the House give us an assurance, first, that no further military attacks involving British forces will take place before the debate; and, secondly, that it will be possible to move an amendment to the Adjournment motion so that those who are opposed to the use of force will be able to register their opposition?

Mr. Tredinnick

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I take points of order after statements.

Mr. Newton

As you, Madam Speaker, above everyone, know, questions about what would or would not be in order are for you rather than for me. However, my understanding is that amendments to motions for the Adjournment would not normally be in order. As to the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I repeat what I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South about not seeking to pre-empt the debate on Thursday.